Lost in the first fifteen minutes
Report by Ian Grant
Sure as night follows day, my upbeat report on Tuesday night's game heralds a typically miserable visit to Fratton. Aside from the fact that it didn't rain for a change, it's difficult to find any crumbs of comfort from this performance. Barring a miracle or two, this will be the side that we put out for the forseeable future and it really doesn't look good.
That injury list just keeps on growing. For the second time this season we lost Kevin Miller with a finger injury sustained during the pre-match warmup. Steve Cherry is an extremely able replacement and it'd be difficult to find fault with him on any of the goals, but the squad is stretched to the limits. We're currently without Miller, Barnes, Gibbs, Johnson, Hessenthaler, Payne, Beadle and Connolly - in other words, the team we had out there was the only one we had. That's a disastrous situation.
The game was lost in the first fifteen minutes. After a fairly bright start, during which Ramage made a hash of a tricky chance, we conceded two goals. The first was utterly hideous - Foster and Millen going up together for a cross and leaving Stimson unmarked for a simple finish. The second followed inevitably after another couple of minutes, as Hall outpaced Millen and crossed for Simpson to hammer home.
The game was over, our heads were down and we were in danger of being buried. Playing five at the back has worked well in the past, most notably at Tranmere, but it was an utter shambles here. As Lavin and Bazeley pushed up to support attacks, so Portsmouth, and Paul Hall in particular, found acres of space down the flanks and the three centre backs were pulled out of position. For a while, Portsmouth ran riot and we held on desperately.
The substitution of Mooney for Bazeley after about half an hour was slightly mystifying but, to be fair to Roeder, Mooney was the catalyst for our few good moments. A slight revival lifted our spirits towards the end of the half but we couldn't create any real chances and fell foul of Portsmouth's incessant offside trap too often. Suffice to say that, apart from a useful away draw in the relay race, half-time was not happy for the travelling 'Orns.
I would assume that there were a few harsh words in the dressing room because we emerged for the second half in a more determined mood. It took five minutes for Kevin Phillips to pull a goal back, scoring from close range after a good run and cross from Mooney. Suddenly, there was hope. Phillips came closest to levelling with a fierce half-volley that was tipped over by Alan Knight.
But Portsmouth settled matters after weathering the storm. Having won a free kick on the edge of the area, they took it quickly and wasted it. The referee waited to see what would happen and then let them take it again. Would he have done that if they'd scored? I rather think not. Chris said they'd score the second time and they did, with a thumping shot from Martin Allen (or "Malcolm Allen" as he's known to his manager). So we were penalised twice - ridiculous.
The rest of the game dragged on for hours. Portsmouth created chances and hit the bar (I think); we were caught offside innumerable times and looked clueless. With a couple of minutes left, Craig Ramage grabbed an unexpected lifeline, pouncing after Knight had failed to hold a shot. But even then a third seemed beyond us.
Portsmouth's fourth was farcical. A move broke down, leaving Paul Hall in the middle of the box. The ball was played through towards Hall who had turned to run onside - Carter intercepted, rounded Cherry and scored. The point? Hall was in the middle of the action, distracting defenders and goalkeeper, and so was clearly interfering with play. The fact that he had his back turned to goal is irrelevant. The day when officials learn to apply a little common sense will be a great day indeed.
Still, past experience should teach us that we can't rely on referees to use their brains. One of the best ways to get results away from home is to avoid conceding two goals in the first fifteen minutes.
The current 5-3-2 formation is forced upon us and, on this occasion, it didn't work. Portsmouth took full advantage of the space we gave them down the wings and in midfield. We won't come up against players like Hall every week (did I say that about Daley last week?) but the weakness in the middle of the pitch is a real concern. On this evidence, an unfit Darren Caskey won't fix the problem.
We need some fit players. Now.
Ragged, non-existent and lonely
Report by Kate Holmes
At least it didn't rain. That was as good as the day got. It was unusual to see Portsmouth in the sunshine, as the game is usually midweek and it usually rains. Things began to go wrong as soon as I got onto the terrace, when someone told me that Kevin Miller wasn't playing as he had just dislocated his finger in the warm up. Believing this to be a sick practical joke, I asked several different people, all of which gave me the same horrible story. It was just as well we had brought Steve Cherry with us. Add to this our alreadly crippling injury list, and the fact that a stomach bug swept the rest of the team, and you get the feeling that things just aren't going your way.
Darren Caskey replaced Tommy Mooney, a bit of a surprise having seen Mooney's display against Blackburn. He started quite brightly until he got clobbered a few times. Then he seemed to avoid any challenge. At times he made Ramage seem like a hard worker. Premier League players - they think they are so much better that the rest of this league. To be fair to him, it did seem as if Portsmouth's initial tactic was to get him out of the game. They then began on Ramage, then Moralee, and finally tried to get Holdsworth sent off.
Before we had a chance to recover from the psychological blow of losing Kevin Miller, we were two goals down. The first was through some horrendous defending, the second when Keith Millen (one of the bug victims) was outpaced by their number 10 who is much quicker than Milly. Once Holdsworth began to mark him he didn't have so much joy.
The rest of the first half was pretty painful, with our defence looking very ragged, our midfield non-existent, and our forward line lonely. Roeder made a substitution which raised several complaints, but I thought it was quite a good move. Bazeley was replaced by Tommy Mooney, who immediately started to cause them problems. One run by him ended up with him begin brought down in the penalty area, nothing given for it. This brings me quite nicely onto the officials. Every week we say that at least they can't get worse, and every week we are proved wrong. This ref didn't mind their vicious tackling - they have Martin Allen in their team - but dare to take a free kick 2 cm away from the right spot and he was right there. He did not believe in playing the advantage. One free kick to them was headed away by Fos, so he made them take it again - from exactly the same spot, there was no encroaching and it hadn't even been taken too quickly. Must have been because they mucked it up.
We finally managed to get a shot right on the stroke of half-time, when Super Kev blasted one past the post, taking a deflection of a Pompey player for a goal kick. This was one of those rare occasions when we weren't flagged offside by an extremely flag-happy linesman who didn't understand the interfering with play rule.
The second half started well for us - it couldn't have been much worse. Tommy Mooney got in down the left, crossed low and hard for Super Kev to come steaming in to finish. This gave us a chance, and we seemed spurred on by this, but started to get very frustrated with the amount of times we were caught offside. Every time we played the ball forward, up went the flag. The ref basically handed them the points when he gave them a free kick on the edge of the area. The ball was in the right spot, and the wall was ten yards when they took it and we cleared it. For reasons known only to himself, they were allowed to take the kick again and needless to say they scored. Bloody typical.
Once more we fought to get back into the game, but the offside trap was catching us every time. We managed to pull another goal back from a long throw, flicked on by Fos, Super Kev's shot rebounded off the keeper and Craig Ramage reacted quickly to bury it. This gave us about 4 minutes to camp in their penalty area. We pushed players forward in desperation, which left us short at the back.
Cherry miskicked a goal kick straight to one of theirs, and in playing the ball back, the Pompey palyer kicked it straight at a player in a very offside position directly in front of goal. It was only a fluke that the ball was picked up by another player, who scored, but how that first player was deemed to be "not interfering with play" is beyond me. Had he been running onside by the corner flag or at least the edge of the area then fair enough. But he was right by the penalty spot. If that isn't interfering with play then Scum are a good side.
Things just did not go right for us. The incident with Kevin Miller sums up our injury situation. And to think I heard a Blackburn fan moan about their injury crisis. As for Caskey, he has to learn that being a pretty player in this division will mean you get your legs kicked off. I don't think he is as bad as he looked at Portsmouth but he has to learn to get tough. Still, at least Scum lost.
Encourage the players!
Report by Chris Lawton
They say football is a funny old game and Saturday showed just that. I got there early and stood on a terrace that looked much as it had done 50 years ago. The one good bit about the afternoon was the weather - for once it didn't rain. Kev and Steve came out to do some warming up when somehow Kev did his hand in again! My optimisim for a good result vanished as the teams were read out with Steve Cherry being thrown in at the last minute. This meant we had three outfield subs and just about our only 14 fit players.
The game started well and for 10 minutes Watford looked confident in what they were doing. Passing and moving around and even creating a few openings. The best of which saw Ramage miss the ball completely from 8 yards out when it seemed easier to at least hit the target.
This seemed to wake Portsmouth up and the started playing some dangerous balls in behind our full backs. From one of these Lavin was left bemused by the winger who sent in a decent cross. The ball fell at the feet of Stimpson and seeing he was unmarked slammed the ball home. It then got worse - another through ball which did Millen ball pulled back and Simpson shot home through the defenders legs. 14 minutes gone and two down.
After 20 min Roeder made a change bringing on Mooney for Bazeley. It looked a strange decision but it appeared to do the trick of tightening up a defence with as many holes in it as the crowd. Mooney played quite well, battling hard and on several occasions tracked back the length of the pitch to make crucial tackles.
In all this our new player Caskey was being kicked to pieces by various Pompey players. It was a shame because until his legs started vanishing from beneath him he was knocking the ball around quite confidently. Four Pompey players were booked - a couple of which seemed harsh, a couple of which should have been red. The officials were, it must be said, poor. One linesman was trigger happy, the other seemed to think that offside occured when you got the ball not when it was kicked.
Half time came and our only real efforts had come via Phillips whose shot had gone narrowly wide and Mooney looked to have been bundled over in the penalty area.
Second half and Roeder had obviously fired the lads up as they came out with confidence to pass the ball around again. 5 minutes in and we were back in the match. Mooney surged to the byline and pulled the ball back for Kev to side foot home. Minutes later Kev hit a dipping shot from 20 yards out which Alan Knight did well to tip over.
It became a bit scrappy as both sides looked for another goal which eventually fell to Pompey. Holdsworth bundled over one of their players about 25 yards out and promptly got booked for it. Portsmouth tried a really quick free kick which very nearly worked for them. The ref, however, didn't like it so he gave them another bite at the cherry so to speak. The position of the wall looked dubious and Allen curled the ball home.
Once again our confidence drained away and the match looked to be over when a low hard shot was fumbled by Knight and Ramage smashed home the rebound. With 5 minutes to go we had a chance until the ref took control of our chances. Their centre forward was loitering on the penalty area casually walking back when the ball was played back into the box. Carter ran in with one of our defenders who along with Steve in goal was confused by the two players and the ball ended up in the back of the net. The point of issue is was the original player interfering with play? In my opinion he was.
So that was it. You came away feeling we could have had a point from this match but with our injuries at the moment it was never going to be likely. We lack confidence, that is very clear, and the fans didn't help. We did not, and I include myself here, support the team enough. When they needed our support all they got was booing and shouts to Roeder to get his cheque book out. At Bournemouth, the last match I was at, we played a part in the victory - on Saturday we also played a part in the defeat. For the 90 minutes that the players are on the pitch they should be encouraged. The abuse given to certain players is not going to help them.
My final point is about Moralee. I thought he played well on Saturday despite comments from those nearby. The problem for Moralee was the service he received. When the ball was played to his feet, or over the top for him to turn and run onto he usually won the ball and kept possesion. 90 % of the balls he received on Saturday were played onto his head with a big defender standing behind him. His final touch let him down at one crucial moment in the first half but it doesn't justify the abuse he gets.
Report by Tim Lattimer
For once Portsmouth away wasn't the dull, lifeless occasion we've come to expect, as we had drama, controversy and a breath-taking finish. On the other hand it was very disappointing not to get the result we deserved. Hopes weren't high after our defeat at Charlton earlier in the season and we got off to a poor start (Er, we WON at Charlton - Ed). Change-overs were sloppy, and by half-way through the first lap we were well behind. We weren't helped by the fact that one of our lads looked like he might be carrying a couple of pounds too many (a Ramage fan?) and he lost both his legs comfortably.
Nevertheless the last few legs of the first lap were superbly run and we finished the first lap with honours roughly even. Again we fell behind, and with two legs to go it looked like we were finished, but our tactic of saving our best lad for the final stretch paid off and he just managed to catch their bloke at the death. We thought we'd won but the Tannoy announcer adjudged it an honourable draw. Bastard. Still the lads can take heart from an improved performance.
The sunset was a disappointment too, as was the proper result, but at least we were spared the Portsmouth Belles this year. On the other hand we didn't get the consolation of Luton's inevitable defeat until the next day.
The Telegraph improved on their report of the Millwall game by actually mentioning us this time : they even named our scorers and said we'd come back strongly in the second half. "Fenwick reaps the reward for quality football" or some such nonsense was the headline. Fenwick said "For about 20 minutes we were unstoppable. Other teams would have resorted to route one, but we turned on the style." Poor deluded fool. Nothing about the half-time relay race though.
Why do Portsmouth always get such good press? They've had one season in the top division in the last two decades or so, and that was a bloody awful, dirty side. They've got a crap ground, and not that many fans. If I'm not mistaken they also gave Alan Ball his first job in management, so they've got a lot to answer for.